Tortillarama

Tortilla Photo

With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, it’s time to get out the tortilla press and shape tortillas. Easier to make than most people think, homemade corn tortillas have a better flavor and texture than the ones you’ll find on store shelves. Traditionally, the best ones are made from fresh masa, a ground mixture of dried corn kernels soaked with lime, but excellent ones can also be made using masa harina, a dried version found in many supermarkets.

Corn Tortillas

Makes about 1 dozen

3 cups masa harina

1-¼ cups of warm water (this may vary depending on air humidity and other wheatear conditions).

2 pieces of round plastic cut out from a bag. (freezer bags are ideal for this purpose).

  1. In a small bowl combine the masa harina and water. Mix well until the water is absorbed evenly and the dough forms a ball. The consistency of the dough should be soft; it should not stick to your hands. If it does, add more of masa harina. If it looks dry or crumbly, add more water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes.
  1. Preheat a griddle or heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over medium flame. Lightly oil brush the griddle with a small amount of oil.
  1. Using a tortilla press or the bottom of a pan, place a ball of the dough about 1 ½ inch in diameter between the two plastic pieces and press to form a 6 inch round tortilla.
  1. Press the small ball of dough firmly with your fingers to form a patty between the pieces of plastic.
  1. Open the tortilla press and place the tortilla in your hand. Peel off the top plastic. If the press tortilla has an uneven edge, then the dough is too dry and you will need to add a little water and mix the well.
  1. Flip the dough over in your hand closer to your fingers and carefully peel the plastic off the dough. If the dough doesn’t come off easily then the dough could be a little wet. Add some more masa harina to the dough mix again until it becomes easy to handle.
  1. Place the tortilla on the griddle and cook for 45 seconds. The edge will begin to dry out. Turn over and continue to cook for 1 minute until brown patches form
  2. Turn over again and cook for another 15 seconds. The cooking time is about 2 minutes total. Cook until the tortilla begins to puff. Tap lightly with your fingertips to allow even puffing. Cover with clean towel while the remaining tortillas are prepared. Serve warm.

Recently, I teamed up with ICE to create a short how-to video that takes you through the process. You can view the video on the ICE Blog.

Gingerbread

Christmas Gingerbread

Forget gift giving. For me, enjoying my favorite holiday foods the essential part of a Merry Christmas. Gravlax, Swedish meatballs and a big English breakfast on Christmas morning are all long-standing traditions in my home and when I eat them I am reconnected with holidays past.

Every Christmas I make my favorite gingerbread cake, which is based on a recipe from Claudia Fleming when I worked for her at Gramercy Tavern in the nineties. This gingerbread uses stout and fresh ginger, which along with the more traditional molasses and dried ginger, gives this cake an intense, bright flavor. We often eat it for dessert on Christmas Day, but this cake stays fresh for several weeks, so I’m usually enjoying it happily (for dessert, snack even breakfast) through the New Year.

Stout Gingerbread

2 -3 tablespoons melted butter for greasing the pan

2 cups stout

2 cups unsulphured molasses

2 teaspoons baking soda

6 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark brown sugar

1½ cups butter, melted and cooled

4 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons ground ginger

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 teaspoons ground white pepper

¼ cup freshly grated ginger

  1. Heat oven to 325F. Butter a 10-12 cup Bundt pan.
  2. In a large saucepot, combine the stout and molasses and cring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. This will cause the mixture to bubble-up. Let the pan rest off the heat until the bubbles are gone and the liquid is cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugars and melted butter. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and dry spices.
  4. Mix the cooled molasses mixture with the egg mixture. Slowly add these blended liquids to the flour mixture. Stir in the fresh ginger.
  5. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until the top begins to crack and spring back when gently touched with your finger. Cool completely before unmolding from the pan.

Merry Christmas!

Super Snack

popcorn

The Big Game is tomorrow and, after Thanksgiving, the best holiday for eating. One of the snacks I decided to make this year is a spicy mix of popcorn and toasted nuts. My CSA grew popcorn this year and decided to add it to a recipe I had from my days at Gramercy Tavern for spicy nuts. My friend, Nick Oltarsh created the nut part of this recipe for the Tavern bar and recently Danny Meyer published a version of it in his bar book: Mix Shake Stir: Recipes from Danny Meyer’s Acclaimed New York City Restaurants.They’re an addictive crunchy mix of sweet and spicy. Adding the popcorn lightens the snack, so you can enjoy it for the entire game.

Spicy Nuts and Popcorn Mix

Makes about 8 cups

Spice Mix:

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Sugar syrup:

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

3 cups mixed nuts (pecans, almonds, peanuts, macadamias, cashews)

½ cup popcorn kernels,

Oil for popping corn, if necessary

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Prepare the spice mix: Combine the ingredients for the spice mix in a small bowl, stirring until the sugar, salt and spices are completely and evenly blended. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the spice mix and set aside for the popcorn.
  2. Prepare the sugar syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepot. Heat the mixture to a simmer, stirring once or twice to help the sugar dissolve. Simmer the syrup for 1-2 minutes, then remove from the heat. Once the syrup has cooled slightly, it’s ready to use. It should have the consistency of maple syrup, not thick like honey.
  3. Prepare the nuts: Heat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, toss the nuts with the sugar syrup, then add the spice mix. Stir until the nuts are well coated. Spread the mixture onto a ½ sheet tray lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake the nuts in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the nuts begin to turn brown slightly. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely.
  4. Prepare the popcorn: I usually pop the corn on top of the stove (but the microwave or an air-popper work great too): Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of a 3 quart saucepot, heat it briefly, add the popcorn and cover with a lid. Constantly shake the pan in a gentle back-and-forth motion to prevent the kernels from burning. Within 1-2 minutes the kernels should start to pop. Continue shaking the pan over the heat until 2-3 seconds pass between pops. Pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Add the butter to the empty pan and swirl the pan until the butter is melted. Add the reserved 2 teaspoons of spice mix and stir with the butter over low heat for 2-3 minutes, until the spices are fragrant. Pour the spice butter over the popcorn and mix well.
  5. Final step: Remove the nuts from the sheet tray and break them apart. Add the nuts to the popcorn and toss together. The snack mix will keep in an airtight container for 2-3 days before the popcorn gets stale. The nuts can be stored separately for 2 weeks.

 

Cheers and Cherries

image

This New Year’s Eve we’re celebrating at a local restaurant, so for tonight’s dinner the only thing I had to make was reservations. Still, we have a chilled bottle of bubbly for toasting later, which means I have some snacks on hand, in case we feel like late-night nibbling. For me, a creamy triple-crème cheese is a great match for Champagne. The unctuous texture and buttery taste of a Saint André or L’Explorateur plays nicely against the crisp, dry wine. I love dried fruit and cheese, so to go with our Saint André, I made a dried cherry chutney, which has a little heat from the addition of some cracked black pepper.

Happy 2014 Everyone!

Dried Cherry, Shallot and Black Pepper Chutney

This chutney can also be made with dried apricots or dried cranberries. I find dried apricots to be sweeter than cherries, so I usually cut the sugar in half. Conversely, cranberries sometimes require extra sugar to balance their tang. I don’t like overly sweet things with champagne, but your taste buds are the best judge.

Makes about 2 cups

1-1/2 cups dried cherries

1 cup dry white wine

¼ cup champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

¼ cup white sugar

2 small shallots, halved, peeled and thinly sliced

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper (whole peppercorns crushed with a mortar and pestle or the side of a chef’s knife)

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a 1 or 2 quart saucepot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. When the liquid boils, lower the heat and simmer the chutney until most of the wine and vinegar are evaporated, about 10-15 minutes. The small amount of remaining liquid should look slightly syrupy. Cool.
  2. The chutney will keep for two weeks in the refrigerator. Serve chilled or room temperature with cheese.

Swedish Cure

Gravlax

Every Christmas season I make a batch of salmon gravlax. Cured but not smoked, the Nordic specialty is easy to make, but requires patience: rub a cure mix of salt, sugar and seasonings over the salmon, then wait three days for it to be ready. For years I’ve used a recipe that called for 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar but I discovered that using more sugar than salt in the cure gives the salmon an improved supple, silky texture without making it too sweet.

Make sure the salmon you use is super-fresh: it shouldn’t have a mushy texture or an overly strong smell. Most of the salmon we have on the East Coast is farmed and I’m leery of the environmental problems related to most Atlantic salmon, so I always look for wild King or Coho salmon from Alaska or responsibly farmed salmon. A website I like to help me make smart seafood choices is seafoodwatch.org. They also have a great free app that’s regularly updated with smart fish choices.

I usually eat my gravlax with mustard and Swedish crisp bread, but it’s equally delicious in a salad or on a bagel instead of lox.

God Jul!

Swedish Gravlax

Makes 6 to 8 appetizer servings

1-1/4 pounds salmon fillet, skin on, pin bones removed

4 tablespoons kosher salt

6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns

2 tablespoons fennel tops or fresh dill, coarsely chopped

Salmon

  1. 1. Take a sheet tray or large plate and line with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Place the salmon fillet skin-side down in the center of the tray. Make sure there is enough extra plastic to wrap over the salmon later.
  2. 2. Lightly crush the white peppercorns. This can be done with a mortar and pestle or by placing the peppercorns on a cutting board and firmly pressing on them with a heavy pot or sauté pan. Combine the crushed peppercorns, salt, sugar and fennel in a small bowl.
  3. Pour the cure mixture over the salmon. Spread the cure evenly, making sure the fish is completely covered.
  4. Pull the extra plastic wrap tightly over the salmon. Refrigerate overnight.
  5. After 24 hours unwrap the salmon. At this point there will be a lot of liquid. Flip the salmon over and spoon this liquid over the salmon. Rewrap the fish and return it to the refrigerator for 1-2 days. I usually like to let the fish sit for 3 days to insure that the cure has penetrated completely, but if your fillet is thin it may be ready after two.
  6. After 3 days, unwrap the salmon. Wipe off any excess cure with a paper towel or if you prefer to remove all excess bits of herbs and peppercorns, briefly rinse under cold water and pat dry. The salmon will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. When ready to serve, cut thin slices at a 45° angle.

Memorable Potatoes

A salad of fingerling potatoes and grilled ramps. If you can't find ramps, grilled scallions are a great substitute.

A salad of fingerling potatoes and grilled ramps. If you can’t find ramps, grilled scallions are a great substitute.

Today is Memorial Day and I’m keeping the cookout simple. We’re putting some hot dogs (from Pat La Frieda) on the grill and serving them with Cole Slaw and Potato Salad. When I make potato salad, I prefer to stay away from the typical mayonnaise-based dressing, instead tossing the potatoes with Dijon mustard, vinegar, olive oil and parsley. I usually add some minced onion or scallion as well, but I’m using the ramps that are still in season and available at my farmers market. Since my grill was fired up, I threw them on alongside the dogs, which softened their crunch and add a hint of smokiness to the salad.

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

Fingerling Potato Salad with Dijon and Ramps

Makes 4-6 servings

1 lb. fingerling potatoes, scrubbed (if fingerlings aren’t available, Yukon Golds make great potato salad)

8-12 ramps, trimmed and washed

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for grilling ramps)

2 tablespoons chopped parsley, chives (or another herb that appeals)

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepot and cover with water. Add a generous pinch of salt. Bring the potatoes to a boil over medium heat. Simmer the potatoes until tender: a knife should cut through the potatoes easily. Drain the water and wait until the potatoes are cool enough to handle.
  2. Brush the trimmed ramps with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the ramps for about 2-3 minutes a side, or until tender. Coarsely chop the ramps. (If you are not grilling, you can coarsely chop the ramps and sauté them for 3-4 in a small amount of oil until tender.)
  3. Combine the Dijon mustard, vinegar, sugar, olive oil and parsley in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cut the potatoes into chunks or slices. Add the ramps and dressing and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Game Ready

I like to top my Chili with sour cream and cilantro-- both offer a cooling contrast to the heat of stew.

I like to top my Chili with sour cream and cilantro– both offer a cooling contrast to the heat of stew.

Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday! Living in the middle of Ravens country, everyone’s fired up!  One of the dishes I’m making for the game tomorrow is Chili. It’s snowing tonight and with more snow predicted for tomorrow, it feels like the perfect warm, spicy dish for watching the Super Bowl. I usually make Chili with beef, but tonight, I’m using venison I got from a friend who’s an avid hunter. The toughness of the meat is perfect for the the long cooking required for a good Chili. If I do use beef, I prefer chuck.

There seem to be many opinions on what exactly belongs in Chili and what doesn’t.  I’m happy eating any style, but when I make my own, I fall into the group that prefers chunks of meat over ground and believes that Chili should be bean-free. To me, the key ingredient in a good Chili is the chiles themselves. While chili powder is OK in a pinch, the Chili will have better flavor by grinding your own chili powder from whole dried chiles. I also add Red Chile Paste to my Chili. Prepared separately, its a mixture of rehydrated dried chiles, onions, garlic and chicken stock. I use it in a lot of Southwestern recipes: quesadillas, marinades, salsas, etc.

I used Ancho, Guajillo and Chipotle chiles in my recipe, but these can always be changed depending on personal taste. The Anchos and Guajillos are not particularly hot, but the Chipotles add a good bit of heat and smokiness.

Red Chile Paste

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

2 ancho chiles

2 guajillo chiles

2 cups chicken stock

½ cup diced onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

Using a paring knife, remove the stems from the chiles. Cut a slit along the side of each one and remove the seeds. If they break into large pieces, it is ok.

Toasting the chiles gives them a much better flavor. Be careful not to burn them --just a few minutes over medium heat, flipping frequently is enough.

Toasting the chiles gives them a much better flavor. Be careful not to burn them –just a few minutes over medium heat, flipping frequently is enough.

Place the chile pieces in a dry 1 or 2 quart saucepot.  Toast the chiles over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they begin to blister slightly. Add the chicken stock, onions and garlic.

  1. Simmer the chiles for 5 to 10 minutes until soft. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  2. Puree the chile mixture in a blender until smooth.

 

 

Venison Chili

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons canola oil

1-1/2 pounds venison or beef chuck, cut into 1” pieces

1-1/2 cups diced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground chipotle pepper

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup Red Chile Paste

3 cups chicken stock

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

 

  1. Warm the oil in a 4 or 5 quart rondeau over medium high heat. Dry the venison pieces with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. When the oil shimmers, add the meat and cook, stirring occasionally until the venison is caramelized.  Remove the venison from the pot and set aside.
  2. Add the onions, lower the heat to medium and cook. Stir frequently until the onions are soft   and translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, or until the it is just fragrant. Add the ground chipotle, oregano and cumin. Stir briefly, then add the Chile Paste. Bring the mixture to simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes before adding the chicken stock.
  3. Return the venison to the rondeau. Simmer the chili uncovered for 2-3 hours, or until the meat is tender. The liquid should thicken slightly while the meat cooks, but if the chili gets too dry, add additional chicken stock or water. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired.